Leading article: Racism issue must be probed

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Sir Keith Ajegbo, author of a government inquiry into how British values and citizenship should be taught in schools, is right to draw attention to what he calls the "shocking" statistic that Afro-Caribbean boys are three times more likely to be permanently excluded from school as white British youths. If there are cases where Afro-Caribbean and white youngsters commit the same offence but only the Afro-Caribbean youngster is excluded, then that merits further investigation.

Indeed, the school concerned should carry out an inquiry into its exclusion procedures. Sir Keith indicated that a subconscious form of institutional racism may be at play here. He was at pains to point out that he does not consider schools or teachers to be in any way overtly racist, but his comments bring to mind a report from the former Department for Education and Skills which highlighted the same issue. At that time the use of the term "institutional racism" was vetoed by ministers who considered it to be too incendiary and substituted the term "systematic racial discrimination".

Ministers may have a point that the term "institutional racism" should be avoided. Its use tends to spark off outrage and denials from those saddled with the epithet and that can get in the way of attempts to solve the problem. The debate then concentrates on whether or not schools are institutionally racist rather than on what can be done to reduce the number of black exclusions. On the latter point, the new department for children, schools and families should take a fresh look at the charter for improving black achievement produced by the NUT at its conference last Easter. It talked of the need to generate more respect – by teachers for their pupils, yes, but also by black parents for the value of education. It also advocated the use of more mentors from the black community to give young Afro-Caribbeans role models to whom they can aspire.

As the document emphasized, the under-performance of Afro-Caribbean boys is a complex problem which needs action on several fronts if it is to be addressed. Let us hope that Sir Keith can persuade more schools to adopt a positive approach towards promoting community cohesion – which they are required now to do by law – during his tour of the regions.